Wednesday, March 09, 2011

dancing myself to sleep

In the two years I have lived here, I have seen more Mexican folk dances than you could shake a Veracruz boot at.

And, frankly, I am a bit tired of them.  Admittedly, most of the dancers I have seen are young and local.  But the Melaque festival in December offered up some more seasoned performers.  And they offered little more than I have seen before.

Watching white and red clad dancers do the equivalent of square dancing leaves me cold.  And I am at a point in my life I can honestly say I never do anything twice.

But I was repeatedly told by people I respect that I was wrong about folk dancing when it came to one group in Mexico City -- Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez.  The group was supposed to be the best of the best.

So, I bit.  Or bought.  A ticket.

After all, it was going to my sole cultural outing in Mexico City, and I wanted to look forward to a great night on the town.  (I turned down an opportunity to see A Chorus Line -- in Spanish.  A Chorus Line is dated enough in English without trying to figure out how such a Manhattan-centric piece would work in Mexico City.  It didn't even travel well to England.)


The setting for the performance could not have been more impressive.  The Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) -- a huge wedding cake of a building that was started by Porfirio Diaz and finished following the Revolution. 

As a result of the construction delay, the exterior is primarily art nouveau -- with jarring dashes of art deco.  Almost as if Cole Porter had been invited to accessorize a Verdi opera.

But the interior is as pure art deco as Radio City Music Hall -- its architectural cousin.  And, in one of those twists of history that makes me a believer that there are no coincidences, the mural that Diego Rivera was to have painted for the Rockefeller Center is now painted on the second floor gallery of the Palace of Fine Arts.  (It is not very good.  But more on that later.)

The stage in the auditorium is first rate art deco.  The theater is relatively small, but its proportions are just right for live performances.

With the location and the setting, I was prepared to be dazzled by the dance company.

The company is large.  And it presents a nice mix of solos, duets, and full cast numbers.

But nothing was unusual.  There were the usual colorful Aztec-type dances.  And dances from various regions (Guerreo, Jalisco, lots and lots and lots of Veracruz).  All of them performed with almost Swiss mechanical perfection.

But there was no soul.  And that was best typified by the dance celebrating the Revolution.  How can you go wrong with a chorus line of young women dancers -- all armed with carbines?  It was right out of Springtime for Hitler.


But the dance simply did not connect with the audience.  It felt as Latin as a Madame Mao Chinese opera.

I had hoped for a bit more.  Something that celebrated the strength of the individual.  Not one of those socialist hero pieces where the one is sublimated to the good of the many.

And then I got my wish.  I have seen the Sinaloa deer dance before.  It is usually performed by one or two dancers.  One is the deer.  The others the hunters.

In truth, it is all about the deer.  Its power.  And its terror at being hunted -- and killed.  It is the male equivalent of playing Odette.


This performance was outstanding.  The deer captured the audience when he burst on stage.  The piece is short.  But it was the only bit of art we were offered during the evening.

And it was worth sitting through the rest of the drivel to get to the four or five minutes that made the evening a success.

Could I recommend the performance to others?  Certainly.  As long as they have not tired of Mexican folk dances.

When I return to Mexico City, I will give it a pass -- myself.


Don Cuevas said...

Been to it twice. That was fine. Also saw a different, traveling company once, in Conway, AR. I also have had enough folkloric dancing.

Don Cuevas

Paty said...

When I was in Quito, Ecuador a few years ago, I went to the Ballet Folklorico one evening. The costumes were intriguing because they were so different from the ones I had seen in Mexico. However, the dancing was mechanical and each dance was too long. I was eager to leave for the hotel and go to bed before I fell asleep in my seat and embarrassed myself.

teresa freeburn said...

it sounds like you are blase after seeing so many dances. glad you got to see at least one part that was worthwhile.

Steve Cotton said...

Folk dancing, like everything else, is ruined by repetition. And I have seen a lot of them in my brief stay.

Steve Cotton said...

Last December, I saw a group in Melaque perform a dance version of the conquest of Mexico. It was extremely good. But it was more like modern dance than folk dance. Quite creative.

Steve Cotton said...

I am done with folkloric ballet. But I have seen some great contemporary dance companies in Mexico.

juanfibarra said...

I have to disagree with your assessment of Rivera's mural as I consider it to be one of his master pieces. I understand that not everybody enjoys this kind of blatantly political art but, notwithstanding Rivera's ideological commitments, "Man, controller of the Universe" is an extremely powerful painting. The dramatic and at the same time uncomplicated manner in which the mural depicts the forces that were to shape the history of the 20th century is, in my opinion, a monumental feat.

I could not agree more with you regarding folk dances though.



Steve Cotton said...

And different opinions is what makes the world go round. I even like Philip Glass.